Merger & acquisition series: Part 4/11 – Establishing the team and process during an M&A
If you haven’t already, download our in-depth M&A playbook.
Welcome back, M&A-rebranders. Today we’re talking teamwork: because if one thing is certain during an M&A rebrand, it’s that no one can manage it alone. It takes a coordinated, well-organized team to handle all of the different expertise areas and intricacies that a successful process demands. The earlier you can get your go-to people established, up-to-speed and equipped to do their part, the better. Here’s where to start.
Elect a leader
First things first: the best programs have effective, clear leadership. Identifying a singular person to step up and take charge of the process will make everyone’s job easier in the long run. Small coalitions of co-leaders rarely work, because people are either trying to be too nice to each other to make a tough decision, or they are battling with each other to show authority. When someone is tasked with steering the ship, the rest of the team is free to focus on what they do best.
A leader doesn’t have to execute every single task or oversee every little detail—but they do need to be owners of the “big picture,” acutely aware of what’s happening at a high-level and available to assist the broader team as questions and challenges inevitably arise. They also need to have a very strong grasp for how to drive internal socialization and decision-making. Basically, they need to know the best way to get people to “yes.” This person often sits right under the CMO (and in some cases is the CMO), and is able to balance big-picture-thinking with attention to day-to-day activities. Overall, a good M&A rebrand leader is focused, collaborative, connected and invested in the success of all parties involved. (Hey, maybe it’s you!)
Listen and learn
Once you’ve appointed a leader, you need to define the rest of your core team. This smaller team is most often comprised of people with brand, marketing, and communications roles, but in organizations where business units carry much of the influence and power, enlisting business leads can help drive buy-in and a smother process. Ideally, this core working team has 3-5 people, giving you the broad perspective of the organization but keeping it small enough to make decisions.
It is critical to include representatives from each organization involved in the M&A. In addition to jumpstarting integration and collaboration efforts, including people from every entity is essential to understanding the inner workings and decision-making nuances of each culture. The more you know about the different organization’s key players and the history of what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the past, the more efficiently you’ll be able to get things done.
Once you’ve gathered your core team, take the time to make sure everyone gets to know each other. Ask them questions about how things work at their company, and what changes they envision for the future. Most importantly, make sure you understand the personalities and backgrounds of all the executive team, which will likely consist of leaders from each organization involved in the M&A. Understanding other potential decision-making and influencing entities (such as boards and private equity partners) may also be important if they are going to be involved. The goal should be to listen and learn from one another during the early stages, so that you can achieve the best results when the going gets tough later on.
The M&A rebrand team at Valaris (formerly Ensco & Rowan) experienced the benefit of the listening and learning stage firsthand. One of the organizations had historically worked to involve as many internal employee voices as possible when making decisions—while the other was more fast-paced and top-down in nature. Learning about these cultural differences was essential to designing a rebrand process that would work for both parties, involving quick turn, yet highly inclusive internal research methodology that ensured everyone’s opinions were heard.
Define a steering committee
Another key step is to define a steering committee: a coalition of cross-functional leaders who understand the value, breadth and impact of decision-making when it comes to the M&A rebrand. These key players should have a clear understanding and knowledge of the culture and company that they come from and represent, as well as clarity on the future and vision for the combined organization. In some instances, a steering committee (or integration committee) has already been defined by executives and you simply need to start getting to know that team.
Make sure the individuals on your steering committee feel appropriately involved, informed and equipped to act as your rebrand team’s advocates when it comes to wrangling c-suite and board member input and approvals. Their support and guidance can make or break your process, so be sure to include them accordingly—but be careful not to make assumptions about how they want to be involved. While you can guide the relationship, it’s best to meet with the key players and understand their perspective on how they should be incorporated.
In some instances, a steering committee may not be necessary. Sometimes, there is a need to keep things confidential, or possibly the timeline is so rapid that it does not allow for an extra “gate” for decision-making. In these instances, the core team often works directly with the c-suite. Additionally, some smaller organizations don’t always feel the need to establish this formal group and instead involve senior leaders in other ways throughout the process.
Ultimately, even if you believe that a steering committee is not right for your M&A rebrand, it is worthwhile to have the conversation. If it turns out you need one, formalizing this group early will help ensure you get people on board and get it right the first time.
Assign clear roles and responsibilities
Once you have all your different people in place, it’s time to start identifying and assigning roles and responsibilities. The more detailed you can get at this stage, the better: you want everyone on the team to know exactly what’s needed and expected of them, and exactly how they should go about getting it done. Remember that everyone has their typical day job to maintain on top of this rebrand effort, so setting expectations for involvement helps people manage their busy schedules.
The first thing to align on is your review and approval process. Make sure all involved are on board and understand it. This process should include a general timeline and cadence with key milestones and deliverables. It should be clear how long people have to review and provide feedback in order to keep on schedule. However, know that timelines tend to shift, and be prepared to keep everyone up to date on changes.
Many brands we’ve worked with have turned to RACI, or other similarly comprehensive responsibility assignment matrixes, in order to ensure tasks, owners, approval processes, decision-makers and key dates are clearly identified at every step. You should also define and create the tools you need to manage progress (i.e. status/progress sheets, timelines, contact lists, org charts, etc.). Aim for over-communication and over-transparency whenever possible: everyone on your team should have access to the basics of who, what, when, and where for every task and step on the rebrand agenda. A matrix makes it easy for everyone to identify this information in a pinch.
Lastly, one area where many organizations trip up is identifying decision groups and influencers beyond the c-suite. This might include boards, private equity, and even community influencers. In these instances, it is good to get your CEO’s view on how these parties should be involved. As with steering committees, be sure to ask them how they want to be involved so you can more easily manage expectations and be sure to think broadly. With some of our clients, local political leaders need to be brought in, and with our faith-based health care clients, we often have to work with congregation leaders and Sisters. Not understanding the right way to engage with these groups can throw a massive wrench in the entire process, so you need to be thorough and thoughtful about working with these players from the start.
Integrate external partners
Once you feel you have a decent grasp of the internal teams, it’s time to start integrating your external partners. But it doesn’t have to feel like too many cooks in the kitchen. Spend some time thinking through how you will manage the various agencies, consultants and partners in a way that works best for you, your team, and your M&A rebrand goals. You and your team may determine it makes more sense to appoint a lead agency to guide the process. Most often, this will be your brand agency, as they are charged with establishing the foundation that advertising and PR will build from. Alternatively, you may decide to take on that role yourself. Whatever direction you take, be sure to focus on establishing a collaborative atmosphere from the get-go. Having an army of different partners working in siloes won’t help your team, your efficiency, your budgets, or the final product. Keep things smooth by keeping all parties informed, in the loop and working towards the same goals.
Remember—a good agency partner has likely been through this kind of process before, and they can help you with all of the steps above, from defining teams to creating responsibility matrixes and project timelines. This level of expertise can be particularly helpful if you and your team are newer to major brand transformations. At Monigle, we are often asked to help establish teams and processes, and even write RFPs and vet other agency partners. Don’t be afraid to get together with your external partners and ask for advice. We’re here to help.
As we’ve noted above, the name of the game at this point is learning and collaboration. Clear communication, leadership and a focus on inclusion will help your team feel confident and comfortable as they work together to build something great, from your first step to your last.
And speaking of steps, we’re excited to keep continuing this conversation with you throughout the year. Stay tuned for the next topic in our series, where we’ll highlight how to use data to reduce subjectivity. Until then, you can keep one of our Monigle motto’s in mind: teamwork makes the dream work—especially during an M&A rebrand.